Let’s jump right in to it! Food prep and meal planning have become a sanity saving tools in my ‘let’s get er done’ toolbox. So I want to start with meal planning. Maybe you already do this, if so, GREAT! If not, I highly suggest this time saving and, at the risk of repeating myself, sanity saving task. Start by making a list of your families favorite meals, this will become your master list. I’m always adding to this list as my family and I like to try out new recipes frequently. Or you can make a list of main dishes, a list of starchy sides and a list of veggie sides. I like to mix and match so I have three lists that I consider my main menu. From this master menu I sit down with a piece of paper and I plan 7 days of dinners. I realize that some meals may have leftovers, we will come to how I handle those later. After I make the dinner menu, I make a grocery list. Then I go in and I fill out breakfasts and lunches, adding those items to my list. Now I have a menu and a grocery list, I head to the store. STOP! No, first I head to the kitchen and I go through my fridge, freezer and pantry and mark off everything I already have in my kitchen. Check your seasoning stash because nothing is worse than getting back home and into meal prep only to realize you’re missing a seasoning. Now you are ready for a shopping extravaganza. This process works well for any size family, whether you’re single or a family of 15, a master menu and meal planning is a budget and sanity saver. I actually post our menu so the children do not ask me 14 times a day what we are having. Families with littles, if you want to post a menu for non-readers, take pictures next time of the meals as you make them or all the individual pieces of the meal, laminate them and hang them up with velcro. They can see the menu and you can have one less question to answer. You’re welcome.
Now you are back home and faced with bags upon bags of groceries. If you’re like me you may need a nap after this marathon grocery shopping event. You have a decision to make. Food prep for the week or rest and get take out for dinner that night. No judgement here if you choose the later. I have a dedicated day for food prep at my house. It helps to keep everything organized and the kids from opening random items to snack on if they know what is available to them or what is for a dedicated meal. You will need a free afternoon, containers, a sharpie and masking tape. I cook up the meat for at least three meals. Ideally, we will have three meals featuring the same meat and then I split it into three containers for easy heating up later in the week. (I picked up a lot of these tips and tricks from one of my most favorite cook books EVER, Cook Once Eat All Week by Cassie Joy Garcia- every home needs this cookbook. For real.). Now move on and prep all your veg. I love frozen veg for a lot of dishes and if you do too, this part is a cinch! No need to cook up your frozen veg unless you just want too. I do not, I wait and make it as I’m warming up the rest of the meal. If you are cooking with fresh, make sure you follow protocol for keeping things fresh and prioritize when you eat those items. I will cut up several onions and freeze them up so that I can grab a handful when I need them, so this is usually a veg I have to do once a month. Bell peppers - same as onions. Make up any sauces and store in a mason jar in the fridge and any sides that can be made now and stored - do it. I bake the sweet potatoes, I mash the potatoes, make the rice and anything else that needs to be made. Label everything and store in your fridge. I mark containers that have snacks with masking tape too and then the boys know whether or not it is up for grabs.
So you’ve planned, shopped and prepped. . .you deserve a treat. Go put your feet up and have a piece of chocolate. Or a carrot stick, whatever a treat is for you.
All week now you have at the ready most of the components of your meals. You may need another prep day to cook more meat for the rest of the meals. Let’s chat about leftovers. We are a family of five and that includes two boys, 14 years old and 12 years old. Leftovers are not something we have a lot of usually. Some meals I intentionally make more for leftovers. Sometimes I think I should have leftovers and they prove me wrong by eating it all up. If I don’t have enough of something to make a meal for 5 then it usually becomes lunch for hubby or myself. If it’s something I can add more veggies too and make it into a stir-fry I will do that or I may freeze it for later. I have also been know to take leftover meat and the next day I add some cabbage and carrots and make it into soup. You can be very intentional with your purchases by finding ways to make meals into two by just adding some broth or making it into a quick stir-fry. For instance, last nights left over grilled chicken strips (not enough for 5 people), I rough chop some cabbage, carrots and fry them up, at the end add some peas and soy sauce or coconut amnios with some toasted sesame seed oil and Chinese five spice seasoning and bam! Now you have a quick stir fry that is cheap and delicious! You can always check my blog for more ideas like this.
On another note, I have kids that are older and they are more than capable of getting their own breakfasts and lunches. They know what is available to them and I leave it in their hands. But if you have littles, the same procedure works for lunches too. I do not have the fridge space for prepping all the lunches in advance. If you do and that will help you, then do it. Breakfast prep: here are a few easy ones, mini frittatas that you make in advance and freeze. Breakfast burritos too. Make up a pound of sausage patties or links, fry up the bacon and have it ready to go with some hard boiled eggs and an apple. Hit the easy button as often as you can, your sanity and family will thank you.
I would like to suggest couple of ladies that are worth following on Instagram. Their posts and stories are filled with real life families making real, good food. A lot of my ideas and tips and tricks I’ve picked up from others, especially these two. I love making real, nutrient dense food for my family but I also believe in time saving, budget conscious meals that stretch. I suggest you follow on either Instagram or Facebook both, Fed + Fit and Nomnom Paleo. I know there are more but these two are by far my favorites! Happy planning and cooking!